Been a little while, posting this, with plans to keep on posting Chapters from Tollbooth on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The book is serialized here on this website, so far we’re about 65 pages into the book … Thanks to all the peeps who have been following along and sending messages asking for more. Free is nice. The internet is grrrreat for that.
*** continuing the serialization of Tollbooth***
click here to start at the beginning
Sarah sat on a plaid couch in the rec room, shell shocked of course, but her lips were no longer thin and blue. There was some life to her eyes.
She looked up at me, “Thank god you’re back,” she said. There was a sign on the wall that said ABSOLUTELY NO TOUCHING ALLOWED. I sat on a plastic chair across from her, we held hands, hidden on the seat beside our thighs.
She was wearing a pink sweater with a kitten on it. A hand me down from her aunt. She was so upset about the sweater. She said, “They took my cassettes, and I’m in this fucking ridiculous sweater and I’m supposed to write down how I feel in this journal . . . they take it every night and read it. I’m in this fucking kitten sweater and I . . .”
I leaned over, grabbed her. She started crying. We hugged hard on the couch.
A big guy with a beard came walking over, “YOU’VE GOTTA LEAVE.”
I didn’t let go, he physically pulled me off Sarah. I was basically thrown head first out of the place.
I got in Diesel Cottontail and drove to the county mall.
Two hours later, I was back at the Mayweather. The guard said, “you’re not allowed back.”
I gave the desk girl a plastic bag for Sarah. It had something in it for her. A hooded sweatshirt. Black. Three wolves howling at the moon. It was supposed to be good luck. It had a secret “stash pocket” sewn into it. It was faux fur lined and you couldn’t tell. That’s why it was so expensive, the last of my paycheck. I slipped a cassette into the stash pocket for her.
Nirvana In Utero.
It’d just come out. I hadn’t even listened to it yet. The people at the home never found the cassette. Sarah couldn’t listen to it there but she told me that when she laid in her bed at night she clutched into it, imagining that when she got out, we’d listen to it together. It kept her going.
When we got married, our song was “All Apologies”.
After she was released, Sarah rode her bike everywhere. Even though I’d painted it from orange to blue, she wouldn’t ride in Diesel Cottontail anymore. But, good things came out of those bad events. We were drawn closer, our love got heavier than death itself. The crux of our relationship was my car. It had been a good thing to me, a good transport, I had lost my virginity in it. She wanted nothing more than for me to set it on fire.
Instead, we went for long bike rides to the abandoned railroad trestle, jumping off of it not quite certain if we were going to die or live. We took chisels to the concrete wall of the dam, carving our names in it. When we came out of the sandpits there was a cop parked there. We hid in the honey suckles for hours, filling our mouths like humming birds would. Sarah and I rode away down the wildest hills to where the electric lines hummed over nothing but our youth dissolving everything else in a throbbing pink bonfire.
Sarah said her favorite song was “Moving in Stereo” by the Cars.
“That song where the girl comes out of the pool in slow motion? What was that movie?”
“Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” she said, “But I loved that song for so long. I only saw the movie last year.”
I said my lucky number was 77.
She said, “That’s the year I was born.”
“Best year ever.”
We waded out into the cold, brown Cedar Creek, determined to prove that we would live forever. When we climbed out we had a leech on each shoulder. We clawed them off, tossing them into the mud. “We should follow the train tracks until we find a dead body,” she said, finally capable of joking around again. I said, “They’re always in the blueberry bushes.”
“Shoes knocked right off ‘em.”
We fell in deep love at other people’s parties, on couches completely alone surrounded by a hundred thousand wayward kids.
She liked to cut the cores out of apples and smoke weed at sunset while the bats flew around the apartment complex and our laughs echoed off the gutters.
“I wanna learn how to play the piano, build me a piano, Jimmy.”
I found her a Casio with a blown out speaker on bulk trash day. For a little while she tried to play it, but never learned any chords. She tried to sing too. She had the most beautiful shaky voice and used to finger those chords while we drank bottle after bottle of Seagrams gin in my mother’s basement. She was a true angel, “I’m all alone in the world but I had you to save me.”
Underneath the water tower we both felt like the full moon was in our eyes even though it was hidden behind rain clouds holding out for morning. She spread out a blanket and let me climb on top of her. I knew that it wouldn’t have happened if not for the circumstances of the previous months. A piece of glass pushed into my knee while I pushed inside of her. We were eighteen.
Right then my wisdom felt light as a feather, the wind came up out of nowhere. I’d wanted nothing more than to be eighteen forever underneath that water tower—inside Sarah for the first time. That glass in my knee, even.
We took our flea market junk heap bikes down steep hills. I hit a brick, flipped—broke my arm. That’s how I became a bicycle casualty.
But she kneeled like such a princess never should, kissing my cast, signing her name, a heart, an arrow, a swear about forever. I Imagined my broken bone. I imagined all of her broken brain circuits misaligned after her mother’s funeral.
I should’ve been taking college classes, but I didn’t want to leave Sarah.
“Even if the future doesn’t mean as much money, I don’t care,” I said, “as long as I have you I won’t need money.”
“That’s fine,” she said.
We were the ones in the back of the movie theater, back as far as we could get, the worst showing of the worst film, empty seats, but she was a cheerleader and liked to be enthusiastic about her boyfriend in the darkness. For every fuck she carved another notch into my cast, when it came off it looked like havoc, all those notches.
She wrapped her arms around me the day the cast came off and I carried her for miles.
I dumped gin into her until she finally climbed inside the Rabbit for the first time since the tragedy, “It’s silly, it’s just a car . . . “
We drove Diesel Cottontail out onto the frozen bay. It used to get cold enough to do that in Jersey.
I killed the ignition, and we sat in the darkness, snow falling. We sang to the radio, making up our own words. She told me that she thought it was all worth it, “to be here with you.” I didn’t see how she could mean it, but she meant it. She put her head on my shoulder.
We fell asleep—woke to the reflection of the sun off of the ice. That was the day the bay thawed. The ice had been cracking for some time, no one thought about it. Ted drove his dirt bike out that afternoon and lost it into the water below, he nearly drowned.
The ocean takes a lot.